Category Archives: Pierce Ripanti

2016 Season In Review: Mountain Hawks Complete Five Year Trek To Patriot League Championship

Kids come to play football at Lehigh because they want their games to matter.

They come to Lehigh willing to sacrifice so much, because they want to win games, of course, but they also play the game in order to win championships - Patriot League Championships.

They want those rings.

Sure, they get to square off against the Villanova's, James Madison's and New Hampshire's of the FCS world to measure themselves against the best of their division.  And they get to participate in the nation's most played Rivalry in all of college football, putting them in an elite club of players and into college football history.

All of those things are very important, of course, and allow them great playing memories and, in the case of the Lafayette game, perennial bragging rights.  

But 2015's heartbreak in Hamilton, the 49-42 loss to Colgate, really hurt on a fundamental level for this Lehigh team.  When that senior class was recruited, one of the things that is a part of the deal is that the Mountain Hawks have won Patriot League championships at least once in every four year span.  Until, that is, the class of 2016, though they came agonizingly close several times.

That disappointment seemed to inform this year's team, which also had a couple of fifth-year seniors in senior WR Derek Knott and senior ROV Laquan Lambert, that so many of last year's team didn't get the chance at the championship rings that they ended up earning this season.  

It informed them all the way to a championship, and rings.
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Fate Determined That Lehigh Would Crush The Sweet Dreams Of Their Rival Lafayette, 45-21

The parties raged on in the parking garage next to Fisher Field, which were packed with Lafayette fans eager to enjoy a party with plenty of great food and copious drinks.

The tiny businesses below Fisher Field, the small bits of capitalism next to the concrete husks of factory jobs that have left ages ago, had plenty of visiting Lehigh fans, enjoying the tailgates and ready to invade the stadium that they hadn't seen in four years.

In the line coming into the stadium, a silent protest of hundreds of Lafayette students clad in black, handing out a political statement on a piece of paper and showing some signs that were up seemingly to simply show that these people exist, and are not happy.

Somewhere in this mix of people escaping, people expressing and people denying, a football game was played, one that matched an 8-2 team that was headed to the national stage and the FCS playoffs, the other a 2-8 squad that had their fans questioning the tenure of their head coach.

It was one of the strangest disconnect of emotions that I've ever seen in a Rivalry game, one where the outcome, a 45-21 victory by the Brown and White, was almost expected by everyone going through the crowded gates at Fisher Field.

There was plenty to celebrate - for one side, anyway.
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QUICK RECAP: Lehigh Dominates The Leopards In A 45-21 Rivalry Win

In the most-played college football Rivalry, there was a mild concern of complacency on the Lehigh side.

Would they be able to manage the emotions of the Rivalry after a bye week?  Would they come out flat, and let 2-8 Lafayette take away their chance at an outright Patriot League championship, an undefeated Patriot League record, and a 9-2 regular season mark?

The Mountain Hawks proved resoundingly that fans needn't have worried.

Lehigh rolled to a 17-0 lead before Lafayette connected on a big pass play, then kept the foot on the gas to get to a 45-7 lead before starting to put in the second stringers.

It was pretty telling that the biggest outpouring of emotion during the game happened when Lehigh's marching band, the Marching 97, marched off Lafayette's pep band after they went over on their time to play.  It was that sort of day for a joyous Lehigh victory.
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#Rivalry152 Senior Spotlight

Thought I'd put together this multimedia "presentation" of all the seniors that will be playing in #Rivalry152 tomorrow.  All the content here, pictures, videos, etc. are mostly courtesy of, The Morning Call, Lehigh Valley Live, and The Brown and White.

If nothing else it will go you something to do while waiting for tomorrow's game.


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#Rivalry152 Game Preview: Two Different Paths For Two Ancient Rivals

It is an easy narrative to point at the 150th meeting of The Rivalry as the turnaround for the Lehigh football program, where the Mountain Hawks got together after that bitter, bitter loss and decided that enough was enough, and that they were going to not allow their team to be a cellar-dweller.  

For Lafayette, though, you need to go back further, past some very enormous wins over Lehigh, and wonder. 

"I can't believe I typed it, but there it is," I wrote back in 2006 after a crushing 49-28 loss where Lehigh was dominated on both lines of scrimmage.   "We've lost three straight to Lafayette. and I've got some news: We're no longer the hunted. The sooner we realize that we now have to be the hunter, the better off we'll be."

The co-championship they shared with the Leopards that year had the feel of the worst consolation prize imaginable.  For the second straight year, Lafayette had stolen the FCS Playoff bid right from under the Mountain Hawks, and it was Lehigh left to sit at home to stew.  The post game press conference was as down and dark as could be, the double indignity of losing to Lafayette, and losing any chance at a postseason bid, at the same time.

It felt like Lafayette was on the brink of becoming permanent contenders for the Patriot League championship, meaning their torture of Appalachian State and UMass in the playoffs in consecutive years would be a regular happening over the next decade.  

But it never happened.

This year, Lehigh travels to Easton in their big Rivalry game, sitting at 8-2 and having already clinched a portion of the Patriot League championship, only seeking to remove the "co-" from the word "championship".  As emotions go, the Mountain Hawks couldn't be riding more of a high, winners of eight straight.

And Lafayette sits at the opposite extreme, sitting at 2-8 and wondering how they've gotten to this point, with only three wins over the last two years.
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Earning A Championship Is Hard, But Lehigh Does So In 20-13 War Against Bucknell

When Lehigh players, coaches and fans went to bed on Friday night, they probably had visions of the Mountain Hawks' powerful offense attacking, and overwhelming, Bucknell to coast to a share of a Patriot League Championship and the conference's FCS Playoff bid.

About ten minutes into the game, the 7,049 fans in attendance had probably figured out that if Lehigh was going to win a championship, it wasn't going to be won like that.

It was going to have to be earned.  It was going to have to be grabbed from Bucknell, smashing them in the mouth the same way they were smashing us.

It cannot be emphasized enough how Lehigh had to earn every single inch of this Patriot League victory, how not easy this win really was.

How the Mountain Hawks fell behind, clawed and scratched back to get the lead.  How they had to stop the Bison stampede at key spots, get crucial turnovers, and fire up critical, difficult field goals by sophomore PK Ed Mish.  Even extra points, normally considered automatic, took on new dramatic tension.

The offense got punished on every single play up until the final couple of victory formations.  But in the end, it was not only a victory, but a victory of the most beautiful, rare sort - the type of win that officially buries the past.

"Sometimes the hardest ones are the ones you enjoy the most," Coen said. "When you're winning a championship, it should be hard. Bucknell made it hard on us today, but we're the ones with the trophy and I can't be more proud of a group of guys than I am of these guys."

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QUICK RECAP: Lehigh Are Patriot League Champs, Claw Back And Earn Title 20-13

Bucknell hardly made it easy.

The Bison jumped out to a 7-0 lead, and made the lead 13-7 on the backs of touchdowns by RB Joey DeFloria and RB Chad Freshnock.

With a chance to build on their lead, though, Lehigh's defense stopped Bucknell again, and again, and again.

The Lehigh Mountain Hawk defense, led by heroic performances by senior LB Colton Caslow (11 tackles) and senior LB Pierce Ripanti (10 tackles), forced two turnovers that became a field goal by sophomore PK Ed Mish and a critical stop on Lehigh's doorstep that preserved Lehigh's Patriot League Championship.

It was a fitting place, in a fitting game, for Lehigh to take this elusive Patriot League championship and to allow Lehigh to finally crash an FCS Playoff party they had been denied five years ago.  They overturned their loss to Lafayette here in 2013.  They overturned their 4th-and-5 at Colgate last year by a sophomore CB Donavon Harris interception that preserved the slender 7 point lead.

It was tough as hell, but Lehigh got their, um, stuff together, and won the damn championship.
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Lehigh 45, Colgate 31 Postgame Thoughts: Nearly 10,000 At Lehigh Win Evokes Memories Of 2004

It honestly felt like a day from another era out there on Saturday - in a good way.

In a world of bitter political debates, supposedly declining college football attendance, alleged tensions between the generations and the ongoing charges increasing collegian apathy, there it was: the official attendance total of the Colgate/Lehigh game of 9,255.

There were a multitude of reasons why people wanted to go see the game.  Perhaps it was something good to do with the family on Family Weekend.  Maybe it was a concerted effort to get students into the games, and keep them there, with new policies and new promotions.  Maybe it was a thumb-your-nose effort at the fans who come for cocktails but don't go enjoy the game.  Maybe it was individuals, all as a unit, wanting to come out and see if this high-flying, record-setting Lehigh football team is for real.

Or maybe it was all of them; I have no idea, but I know it required a whole lot of planning and a huge amount of effort from a whole lot of people, and I'm glad they did.

Because it felt like something special was brewing in Bethlehem - and not just from the team making everyone pay attention to them on Saturday.  It was the whole thing - the team, the fans, and the atmosphere.  On Saturday, for the first time in a long time, it felt like "it" was back.
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Monmouth at Lehigh Game Preview: Mountain Hawk Defense Will Be Front And Center

"I hit him with a double move, and then I knew I had him beat," Monmouth WR Eric Sumlin said after the game, thrilled with the play of his Hawks.  "It was a great feeling."

The happy occasion - or unhappy occasion, in the case of Lehigh fans - was Monmouth's come-from-behind 28-21 victory over the Mountain Hawks a couple of years ago.

It certainly wasn't the lowest point of that ill-fated 2014 Lehigh football season - there's zero question that the Razzie there goes for the 150th meeting of the Rivalry - but it was an unquestionable sign that there were problems that needed fixing.

When Monmouth last made it to Goodman Stadium, Lehigh was riding a three game losing streak, a long injury list, and a need to turn things around, fast, before Patriot League conference play.

Going into that game, Lehigh was 120th out of 121 FCS teams in total defensive yardage allowed, and that needed fixing, fast.  Monmouth, no longer the non-scholarship team Lehigh played for the first time so long ago, now were transitioning to the maximum number of scholarships, and had some scary, experienced players running Kevin Callahan's pistol offense.

Though an exciting Lehigh sophomore named QB Nick Shafnisky was under center and putting up a lot of points, the Mountain Hawks weren't putting up as many points as their opponents.  And with the Jersey Hawks at 2-1, and Leigh at 0-3, Monmouth had to be excited that their first-ever win against the Mountain Hawks was in reach.

In that 28-21 game, everything seemed to go wrong for Lehigh.  Shafnisky, ably taking the rest of the offense with him, Shaf was getting the Mountain Hawks into scoring position when disaster struck.

"On his 22nd rush of the afternoon, he fell awkwardly after his run and appeared to have a head injury," I wrote, "meaning the coaching staff needed to take his helmet and QB Matt McHale would enter the game."

McHale wouldn't do badly, but a pass to WR Troy Pelletier short of the sticks, setting up a go-ahead field goal try that would end up being blocked.

"It was a low snap, from the backup center, to a kid holding for his first-ever appearance in a game," head coach Andy Coen said afterwards.  "Stuff like that's happening, and that's part of the game, and you work through it."

From there, Lehigh's defense simply could not stop a Monmouth offense who was dead-set on proving they could finish a game.

Aided by huge defensive penalties and several big third-down conversions, Monmouth QB Brandon Hill kept picking apart and picking apart the Mountain Hawks defense, and RB Levon Chaney, a backup pressed into the starting role, would rack up 200 all-purpose yards on the afternoon and convert two critical 3rd down runs.  For his part, Hill would go 6 for 7 passing and convert a critical 3rd down to WR Neal Sterling before Sumlin hit the Lehigh safety with the double move that led to the loss.

It wasn't the first loss of that year, or the last loss of that year.  But it was painfully memorable in the way that it showed that Lehigh had, suddenly, forgotten how to win.

The loss wasn't totally on just one unit, but it was impossible not to take a look at the defense that final drive and not rehash missed tackles, a missed assignment, not stopping a running play on 3rd-and-1 that might have stemmed the tide.

Just a year before, Lehigh was ranked in the Top 25 and showing FCS Nation how even three-touchdown halftime deficits weren't enough to keep them down.  Even though Lehigh had lost a heartbreaker to James Madison in the season opener and suffered defeat at New Hampshire, there was no need to hit the panic button - those were strong teams that would end up in the FCS playoffs.

During a beautiful mid-summer day in early autumn, however, the Mountain Hawks were revealed to no longer be the type of team that can run with New Hampshire and tussle with Yale.  "Stuff" was happening.


As we fast-forward to the present week, Lehigh and Monmouth are both similar teams.

The Hawks from Monmouth ended last season at 5-6, Lehigh at 6-5.

Both teams won their final games, giving both squads a lot of optimism headed into the season.

Both were picked to finish 3rd in their respective conferences - Monmouth was picked to finish behind Charleston Southern, last year's surprise emergence in the Big South, and Liberty, who every year seems to spend some time in the FCS Top 25.

And both are finally, basically, even steven when it comes to "conventional" scholarship athletes, Monmouth with 63, Lehigh close to the Patriot League limit of 60.

That's on top of the fact that the last three meetings have come down to the final quarter.

"I think it's a good game," Monmouth head coach Kevin Callahan said.  "It's a game against fairly even teams, and I think the last three meetings with them have reflected that.  Both teams are going to go play hard, both teams are both going to play the games to the very end.  We beat them last time, and the time before, they beat us in the last minute of the game.  It's been one of those type of games and I would expect more of the same this time."

On the Lehigh side, the focus is all about improving the defense.

LB Pierce Ripanti
"I think the changes are twofold," senior LB Pierce Ripanti said in this Wednesday's media session.  "with Xs and Os, and also with mentality.  I think the coaches and us players have made some adjustments to the little things and the schemes we run.  It's also been a change in mindset - we want to play a lot faster, a lot more physical, a lot more tenacious."

Ripanti said that the linebackers as a unit have high expectations on themselves.

"We're a veteran group, all seniors, all guys which have had four, even five years worth of experience," Ripanti said.  "We have to lead the defense for the younger guys and be the anchor for our defense."

Pierce wants to come out to a fast start against Monmouth, and also brought up a theme mentioned by other defensive players in the preseason: "doing your 1/11th".

This weekend's season opener will certainly be a proving ground for Lehigh's defense.  It also should, if history is any guide, be a heck of a ball game - and one that could, for good or ill, be an indicator of the rest of the season.

Game Notes, Injuries, And Media Roundup
The first game notes of the season are all about the reveal, and the biggest reveal comes on defense, where a true freshman, freshman FS Riley O'Neil, appears to have won the starting job in camp, with the previously-expected starter, sophomore FS Mike Gies, backing him up.

The other big reveal is that senior LB Colton Caslow, who had a broken hand early on in preseason practice, is still out, meaning senior LB Evan Kauffman will be starting in the captain's place on Saturday.  Backing him up should be junior LB Cal Coffman.

Morning Call: Lehigh ready to show off an improved defense in opener against Monmouth
"The defense is definitely going to play with a chip on its shoulder," said Ripanti, a Wilmington, Del., product. "We know people are curious about how we're going to perform this year. We're taking it as a challenge. People keep asking me if we feel pressure. I don't think it's pressure. It's a challenge and everybody is ready to step up to the challenge and earn respect."
Weather Report
Those hoping for a sunny home opener might need to keep an eye on the weather report.  Morning tailgates as of right now are looking fine with a high in the upper 70s, but PM showers loom in the forecast with a 40% chance of rain.

Special Stuff Happening
This year, I wanted to start highlighting all the special things that make up the Lehigh football game experience, home and away.  In years past I've tried to give all of these activities a shout, but I haven't made them a formal section of the preview.  I think that should change, so I'm going to go for it this year.

The Monmouth game is officially "Lehigh Young Football Alumni Day", and at halftime members of recent Mountain Hawk teams from 2012-2016 will be honored down on the field.  Interested in participating?  Contact the Lehigh Football Partnership for details.

After the game Rauch Field House will host the sixth annual "Meet the Marching 97 Picnic".   The cost is $20, and you can register here.  The best part?  No, not that the money goes to support the Marching 97 - it's that Goosey Gander is catering the event, and your $20 goes towards Goosey "tailgate fare"!

Famous Monmouth Person You've Never Heard Of
Monmouth Grad
Bet you never thought I'd never mention the word "shadchan" in a football preview - I know I never did - but as it turns out, Real Housewife of New Jersey Siggy Flicker not only is a professional matchmaker - she plays one on TV, too.

Her wikipedia page says she graduated with a BA in communications from Monmouth (a pretty apt degree, you have to admit, if you're a professional matchmaker), and supported herself as a waitress at TGI Friday's.

In a related story, I ate a few times at TGI Friday's in New Jersey, and I have some regrets.

LFN's Drink of the Week #DOTW
Speaking of TGI Friday's, Monmouth, and New Jerseyans, let's run with this as it relates to this weekend's Drink of the Week.

What TGI Friday's-themed drink is appropriate to celebrate a surprisingly tough football matchup against a up-and-coming New Jersey school with a men's basketball bench that is arguably more famous than their actual team?

I took a spin on TGI Friday's site and looked for a drink that brought it all together.  As you might expect, TGI Friday's drink list was a fairly conventional list of Manhattans, Martinis, and Daquiris.

Ultimately I decided on the Sidecar - although a bit classic and simple, it seemed the most appropriate for a summer tailgate, and besides, I like good cognac (3 parts) and good cointreau (2 parts) and lemon juice (1 part).  Just take a lemon wedge, work it around the glass, dip it some powdered sugar, and pour.

As always, Drinks of the Week have a place in responsible tailgates, but only if you behave yourself, don't get behind the wheel while impaired (or worse), and are over 21. Please do that.

LFN’s Five Burning Questions Of Preseason Camp

It's almost here - the 2016 football season.

On August 8th, the Lehigh football team finished their offseason testing and officially started in with the incoming freshman class.

Head coach Andy Coen was very impressed with the 20 new faces of the incoming class.

"It's always a huge for the freshmen coming from high school to college but I think that group of kids did a really good job," he told  "I was really impressed that we didn't have as many mental mistakes, especially the young guys," he continued. "That's always good to see. The guys are keeping their faces in the playbook, learning and trying to get better."

So what will Lehigh Nation be looking at during the 2015 preseason?
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